Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fermenting Kimchi

After attending the Boston Fermentation Festival last September, I've had fermentation fever! Benefits of fermented foods abound. Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria, preserve and sometimes enhance the nutrients in foods, and more.

Lately I have enjoyed making (and eating) kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean vegetable dish, often made with napa cabbage and red pepper. One great aspect about homemade kimchi is that you can make it exactly how you like it. Kimchi is also rather easy to make, once you get the hang of it. Here is the kimchi recipe that I have been using recently, from the book Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin. (A book that I contributed writing to!) This is an abbreviated version of Lewin's kimchi recipe, with my minor modifications. More details on making kimchi can be found in Real Food Fermentation.

The fermentation literature, and
Napa Trilogy Kimchi by Benjamin Green and Sean Kushi
(Photo courtesy of Sean Kushi)
Kimchi Recipe

Yield: Approximately 1 quart, or 2 pounds

Prep time: 10 minutes + overnight + 20 minutes

Total time: 5 days

Ingredients and equipment:
  • 1/3 cup coarse salt
  • 2 cups nonchlorinated water
  • 2 pounds vegetables: napa cabbage, plus optional mustard greens, bok choy, daikon, etc.
  • 1/2 head garlic
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 1 piece (1/2 inch, or 13 mm) ginger root
  • Up to 1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder, chopped or ground red peppers, or pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
  • a few scallions or a length of Korean "long onion" (which is, more or less, a mature scallion)
  • 2 pint wide-mouth mason jars

  1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine.
  2. Cut up any or all of the 2 pounds of vegetables. Quarter the leafy bunches of vegetables, or cut them into 1-inch square pieces. Slice the cabbage core and include as much or as little as you like. Peel the root vegetables, and cut them into thin diagonal slices, 1 inch or so long. 
    Kimchi vegetables, ready to be brined
  3. Put the cut vegetables into the brine and mix, using clean hands. The brine makes the vegetables more malleable. Cover the bowl to keep it free of foreign objects. After 6 hours or so (or overnight), drain the vegetables thoroughly in a colander. Taste them. They should be salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are unpleasantly salty, rinse them or soak them in fresh nonchlorinated water, taste them again, and repeat until you are satisfied. Set them aside. 
  4. Peel the garlic and the onions. Peel the ginger (the edge of a spoon works nicely).
  5. Blend the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor, adding enough water to allow them to blend. (Or mix them with a mortar and pestle, or chop them finely with a knife).
  6. Add the red pepper, sugar, and fish sauce, if using, to the combination from step 5, adding just enough water to keep things blending into a paste.  
  7. Making the red pepper paste
    (Photo courtesy of Sean Kushi)
  8. Cut the scallions diagonally into 1-inch lengths, add them to the paste, and mix the paste with a wooden spoon.
  9. Move the drained vegetables into a large bowl, and mix them with the seasoning paste using the spoon. Taste the kimchi. If it is not salty enough, add more salt now and stir. 
  10. Kimchi vegetables with the red pepper paste
  11. Pack the kimchi tightly into the Mason jars, leaving 1 inch of space at the top. Try to pack it down well enough to squeeze out most of the air bubbles along the side of the jar. Close the jar. 
  12. Leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for a few days. Taste it every day or two. It should start to taste a bit "wild." When you like the way it tastes, put it in a cool cellar or a refrigerator to store, or bury it in the ground. The cooler the temperature, the slower the subsequent fermentation.
My tips:
  • As a warning, kimchi is especially smelly as it ferments! You may want to ferment your kimchi in a cupboard if you have the space to.
  • The vegetables will shrink as they soak in the brine. I would not recommend adding more salt brine than what is listed in the recipe. Otherwise, the kimchi may turn out too salty.
  • Make the red pepper paste according to taste. For example, I do not like my red pepper paste too oniony, so I use less onion than called for in the recipe.
Enjoy kimchi with rice or noodles, or check out some of these kimchi serving suggestions from Serious Eats.

Happy fermenting!

Tastes of Summer Kimchi
Featuring vegetables from Waltham Fields Community Farm